Written by Darla Shumway
Fort Peck Tribal voters will make the determination on whether or not to keep the current cross-deputization agreement when they head to the polls in October.
The Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board passed by 6-2 a resolution to place the issue of keeping or terminating cross-deputization on the 2013-15 tribal election ballot.
The Fort Peck Tribes and Roosevelt County were the first to initiate a cross-deputization agreement and have been used as a model for other entities seeking to enact cross-deputization within their own jurisdictions.
Currently, all law enforcement officers — whether employed by the Fort Peck Tribes, Wolf Point City Police Department, Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office, Montana Highway Patrol, Poplar City Police Department, Valley County Sheriff’s Office, etc. — who are cross-deputized can respond to all citizens’ calls for assistance and cite alleged criminals into the proper jurisdiction’s court under the applicable laws based on the suspect’s tribal/non-tribal status.
When asked what would happen if tribal members voted to terminate cross-deputization, Wolf Point Police Department Chief Jeff Harada and Lieutenant Brian Erwin noted that it would force Fort Peck Tribal Law Enforcement officers to respond to calls that could now be handled by the city or county officer that initially responded.
Under the current cross-deputization agreement, any county resident can call 911 for assistance, a law enforcement officer will respond, provide assistance and/or issue a citation into the correct jurisdiction’s court or arrest the suspect if deemed necessary. There are procedures in place to dispatch the appropriate agency based on the caller’s location immediately without regard to tribal/non-tribal status.
Without the cross-deputization agreement in place, the 911 dispatch center will need to determine, first, where the caller is to determine which agencies’ area of responsibility the call for service is from and, second, if the suspect is a tribal member. If the suspect is a tribal member, the only agency that can respond and handle the call for service in its entirety is tribal law enforcement.
“The cross-deputization agreement was initially designed to maximize law enforcement resources of all agencies involved,” said Erwin. “Currently, under the agreement, ANY officer can go to ANY call and enforce ANY law, whether state or tribal, against the suspect. If the suspect is tribal, the officer is there to enforce tribal law as dictated by the Fort Peck Tribes. If the suspect is non-tribal, the officer is there to enforce state law as dictated by the state.”
Roosevelt County Sheriff Freedom Crawford said, “Cross-deputization has been in place over 15 years now and its initial conception was designed for getting help to the people when they call.” Crawford noted that former Fort Peck Tribal Chairman Caleb Shields once said, when someone calls for help at 3 a.m., they don’t care whether the law enforcement officer responding is wearing a blue uniform, a brown uniform or a tan uniform; they just want someone there to help them.
“Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office will still respond to help as much as possible,” said Crawford. “We’ll still out there being proactive, helping the people.”